I’m beginning to believe in a ‘gossip’ gene; a built-in, predetermined facet of the Irish psyche that causes us to say what we like and expect no consequences.
We casually deliver our perceived ‘bit of news’ or ‘bit of craic’ without any regard for the fact that it could be damaging and not very funny at all.
And just in case you think that such ponderings only relate to women, all I will say is Willie O’Dea!
This tendency to make off hand, derogatory remarks about other people is less gender specific and more a national past time and very bad habit.
We don’t like to think of ourselves as gossips and yet we all occasionally relay some tit bit of information or overheard rumour.
We’re quick to preface sentences with, “I don’t want to gossip, but…”, “I’m only telling you this because…”, “For God’s sake don’t repeat this…”, “Promise you won’t tell anyone…”
Dress it up anyway you like but what we are often doing is taking someone’s good character and sullying it; the legal term is defamation.
We make sweeping statements, repeat unreliable rumours and engage in the game of Chinese Whispers without considering the repercussions or the consequences.
Sadly the average Joe Soap can’t afford to take a defamation case against local idle gossip, but it’s just as damaging to that individual in his or her circle as it is to the high profile plaintiffs who take expensive cases against media organisations.
Gossip takes on many different forms. There is the blatant and obvious where the minute you hear it something in the pit of your stomach tells you that the information is really none of your business true or untrue and potentially damaging to someone’s good name.
This usually revolves around the “Wait till I tell you” or “Did you hear who’s having an affair/beating their spouse/a drug addict/an alcoholic/been sacked/been shut down/been arrested” variety of so called news.
Most surprisingly some people are prone to taking this a step further and blurting out such titillating tales as fact on live radio, recorded interviews or to newspaper journalists.
This absolutely beggars belief, but is further evidence of an inbuilt genetic disorder common to us all.
Celebrity gossip has been made into an industry and therefore acceptable. Entire TV shows and magazines revolve around it and many of the subjects welcome the profile it gives them.
They court, embrace and encourage it while it’s positive but then, like Icarus, they inevitably fly too close to the sun, and there are tears before bed time.
Irish model and TV presenter Glenda Gilson makes a living from reporting on celebrity gossip on TV3’s Xposé.
When Ms Gilson became the subject of the headlines recently due to her relationship with Treasury Holdings’ boss Johnny Ronan, she said she is “going through hell” and “it’s just a nightmare”. According to reports Mr. Ronan has had to leave the country because of it.
This is the same Mr. Ronan that never protested when previous accounts of his expensive antics appeared in the gossip columns.
Then we have the ‘jokes’ or the ‘witty retort’, aimed at raising a smile or demonstrating how funny we are, regardless of its potential to cause an international incident.
Kilkenny Para-Olympian, doctor and respected tenor Ronan Tynan got himself into a serious and costly situation in the States towards the end of last year.
When you listen to what happened with an Irish ear you can see how he would think it was a harmless exchange – but when you look at it from the American perspective you draw a sharp intake of breath.
Ronan Tynan is well-known in New York for singing at Yankee Stadium, home to the Yankees baseball team. He lives in an apartment building in Manhattan and the unit underneath his was being rented.
He met the real estate agent and a few of the potential tenants as he was coming and going over the course of the viewings.
As he was passing on one particular day, the real estate agent, who had some clients with him, quipped “Don’t worry they’re not Red Sox fans”, to which Ronan Tynan replied: “I don’t care about that, as long as they’re not Jewish”.
The client, one Gabrielle Gold-von Simson, asked: “Why is that?”
Tynan replied that two Jewish ladies had been looking at the apartment earlier and they were “scary”.
Ms Gold-von-Simson took great offence to the remarks, went public with them and Ronan Tynan has been labeled an anti-Semite, which has damaged his reputation in New York.
Reading it with an Irish sensibility you realise that the line wasn’t perhaps the wittiest, but however stupid, it wasn’t meant as a racist slur.
I know one couple who have moved to Waterford from Dublin. When they were doing up their house they were quite shocked that the husband’s new work colleague was able to remark: “Oh, I hear you’ve put mighty, fancy wallpaper in your sitting room.”
Apparently his colleague was friends with or related to the decorator. There are also the innocent comments about appearance/jobs/children/family.
How many have had days ruined by comments about their weight? A simple statement can send someone into days of depression.
The business ‘terrorist’ is perhaps the most dangerous. These are people who are happy to tell all and sundry about their bad experience except perhaps the business itself.
Now if you have had a bad experience with a business and they have failed to respond then they deserve what’s coming. However, if you haven’t given them a reasonable chance to make reparation then it’s very unfair to tell anyone at all.
Nobody’s perfect and being human we’re all bound to slip up from time to time, but words, written or spoken, are powerful and such a force should be handled with great care.
With all that in mind, it’s fair to say that the old war-time saying still applies – “Loose Lips Sink Ships”.